The government spokesman was enraged, accusing Kyriakos Mitsotakis of “never missing an opportunity to defame Greece abroad,” following the opposition leader’s comments at a European People’s Party summit on Wednesday.
A few days earlier, speaking at the European Parliament plenary on the future of Europe, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw fit to attack his country’s opposition party. This did not disturb the government spokesman.
And so the traditional sport of Greek politicians trading accusations before a foreign audience goes on, with the aim of gaining influence abroad while scoring points at home. Those who play this never seem to consider the damage that they do to the country’s credibility.
This combination of cynicism and childish vindictiveness was the point of a letter that Jean-Gabriel Eynard, a Swiss banker and friend of the Greeks, wrote to Otto Wittelsbach in 1832, when the young Bavarian prince had just been chosen by the Great Powers to become Greece’s first king.
“The plagues of Greece are its leaders,” Eynard wrote, according to historian and politician Spyros Markezinis. “All of them are most capable of glorifying themselves while undermining their rivals with gross exaggeration.”
Greek history has repeatedly confirmed this blunt assessment by Eynard (who went on to play a leading role in the establishment of the National Bank of Greece).
In the past few years alone, the “stock taking” by the government of Costas Karamanlis (2004-9) attempted to prove that the previous government had hidden debts, with the result that when Greece’s debts ballooned out of control (under the Karamanlis government), those who believed that Greece had cooked the books to join the eurozone were doubly enraged.
This fueled the fury of foreign political and economic players, as well as voters, who wanted to see the Greeks “punished.” When George Papandreou, as prime minister, claimed that Greece was corrupt, he may have been aiming naively for catharsis but the result was to further increase suspicions of Greece.
During the crisis, the way the opposition parties continued to undermine the efforts of governments showed that bad habits had not changed – with the dysfunction of the Greek political system often playing out in real time on the world’s screens.
But it is not only the trading of accusations that defames Greece; much harm is done by the persistence with decisions that cannot be explained.
These include the absurd and relentless persecution of Andreas Georgiou, the internationally respected former head of the national statistical service, ELSTAT; an almost paternal tolerance of all kinds of anti-establishment violence, as well as favorable treatment of a certain convicted terrorist; failures evident in handling migration; and the inability of our politicians to achieve even minimal consensus in the face of national dangers.
This is what defames Greece abroad. This is what foreign observers cannot believe when they see it.